IDP Linebacker Breakout Candidates

Brandon Salamat

With training camp right around the corner and rookie drafts taking flight, we’re all looking for the next big breakouts if we’re unable to land our prized rookies. In today’s article, I’ll be taking a look at a few linebackers who are under the radar and could be had for a cheap price if you’re looking to make a couple of IDP moves in your leagues.

As you read through this article and see historical trends, you’ll quickly find most linebacker breakouts usually come from second-year players or from those who’ve been waiting in the wings and their opportunity to shine is there for the taking. With that said, let’s look at some candidates.

Jerome Baker, LB MIA

Entering his second season with the Dolphins, Baker is ready to take the next step in his development. In fact, he could become a weekly starter in IDP leagues. Baker is coming off a decent rookie season, playing 678 snaps and posting a high 70s grade against the run via PFF. Kiko Alonso has two years left on his contract but has a little under $2 million that would count as a dead cap hit in 2020 if Dolphins consider cutting ties with him – that would clearly show Baker made the jump in development and can lead the linebacker unit into the future.

In 2018, Baker played a total of 62% of the snaps, racking up 56 solo tackles to go along with 23 assists with three sacks, one interception, and three pass deflections. He scored 9.50 points per game during the season and ended on a positive note as Alonso missed week 16, and Baker played 97% of the snaps.

I would like to see the Dolphins utilize Baker much as Brian Flores used Kyle Van Noy in New England. If that was the case, he would be their all-around ace amongst the linebackers unit.  Right now we’re taking a chance on Baker in leagues where we start up to four linebackers and potentially next season he’ll be included in the top 24, where he becomes a weekly LB2 option for IDP. Baker is set to break out and jump ahead of Raekwon McMillan, with the upside of pushing Alonso for the Dolphins linebacker to own in IDP.

Ja’Whaun Bentley, LB NE

Bentley is one of my favorite breakouts this upcoming season. However, we have to temper any sort of expectations. He only played in three games last season before going on season-ending IR with a biceps injury. You can see some promise here as his snap count for those three contests was as follows:

  • Week One: 69%
  • Week Two: 42% (didn’t start)
  • Week Three: 78%

The former fifth-round draft pick impressed the coaching staff enough to earn those starts and see the field last year. Bentley has shown solid coverage ability – via PFF, his grade was in the mid-80s. In those three games, he saw a total of 138 snaps (51 against the run, 73 in pass coverage). He might also have only Elandon Roberts as competition.

I believe Bentley can lead the charge in the foreseeable future. With the Patriots bringing in Jerod Mayo to coach the linebackers, Bentley will learn a lot from the ex-Patriots linebacker who wasn’t so bad himself. Bentley gets compared to Mayo a lot and I’m just going to imagine that’s Bentley’s ceiling because, at one point in time, Mayo was the top LB in IDP.

Just keep in mind the Patriots often rotate their linebackers and it’ll become a weekly headache on when you should or should not start Bentley. Don’t get me wrong, he does have every down upside, it’s just a matter of the opportunity and if the Patriots lean more on him.

Harold Landry, LB TEN

The rising stud in Tennessee is about to take a leap in 2019 as he’ll be entering the season as one of the starters at OLB on an underrated Titans defensive unit. Landry has shown flashes as a rookie and showcased his quick bend around the edge that gets him to the quarterback in the blink of an eye. In his rookie season, Landry put together 34 quarterback pressures, 33 tackles, and four sacks while playing 592 snaps – 371 of them coming in pass-rushing situations.

Landry won’t be a volume tackler (not all edges are and that’s not what you’re expecting from them). Instead, you’re expecting them to rack up sacks and create turnovers from getting into the backfield. A good IDP profile for Landry could be Matt Judon of the Ravens, whose averaged around 44 tackles per season with a career-high of eight sacks in 2017. I believe Landry can easily hit that tackle floor, but he can also definitely hit double-digit sacks for years to come as well.

A bigger role is on the horizon for Landry in 2019 – Brian Orakpo averaged about 920 snaps from 2015-2017 on the Titans prior to last season (he only saw 584 snaps) and if Landry comes anywhere close to 900 snaps, the sky’s the limit. The Titans also brought in a savvy vet, Cameron Wake, who will help take some pressure off Landry. The Titans need to and should cut him loose in 2019 and you as an IDP owner should be looking to acquire Landry in all your leagues as a weekly x-factor.

Shaun Dion Hamilton, LB WAS

The second-year linebacker from Alabama was looking forward to a rotational role entering 2019, but those plans have changed with the injury to Reuben Foster – who is out for the season – and the recent release of Mason Foster. Hamilton had been prepping like one of the starters at ILB for the Redskins so should be ready to go – and it looks like Josh Harvey-Clemons will be Hamilton’s competition in camp.

This will be a camp battle to keep tabs on, but I believe it’ll be Hamilton’s spot to lose and although it still may be a rotation in Washington, he should stay on the field on early downs while Harvey-Clemons comes in in sub-packages. The Redskins need some fresh legs at linebacker and some speed, and will get that from Hamilton and the other young linebackers on the roster.

Hamilton can rush the passer (five quarterback pressures in eight pass rush snaps) and drop back in coverage. However, he needs to improve his run defense to help boost his three-down potential. If he can shore that up, I won’t be surprised if Hamilton sees the most snaps at linebacker for the Redskins this season and as long as he can stay on the field, he’ll shine. He’s going unnoticed in a lot of IDP leagues and he’s more than likely still on your waiver wire.  If I were in a league that started three or more LBs with a deep enough bench, I would be running to grab and stash him.

Best of luck this year folks, Aloha.

brandon salamat
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